The Quote That Changed My Life

When I was 17 years old, I watched Bill Clinton become inaugurated into the office of the President of the United States. It was at his inauguration ceremony that I first heard the voice and the writings of Dr. Maya Angelou.

I was a young girl in a small town in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and I had never heard anything that moved me in quite that way before. I was mesmerized by her word choices, her cadence, and the rhythm of her poetry. That was just the beginning for me. With the help and encouragement of my older sister, I began reading more of Angelou’s work. The more I read, the more I was moved by her life and her words. I have found so many of her quotes to be inspirational in different situations in my life. However, there is one quote, in particular, that struck a chord so deeply in me that I have carried it with me and repeated it to myself and my children over and over.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”– Maya Angelou

This quote literally changed the way I looked at myself and my life. See, for those of us who are over-thinkers, analyzing and RE-analyzing the choices we have made in our lives is pretty commonplace. I have laid awake at night rethinking decisions I made literally 30 years earlier.

When you add that to the pressure of being a parent, to the weight of being responsible for someone else’s health and wellbeing, you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out if you are doing the best you can for your children. And, most likely, if you are an over-thinker, you are also teaching your children to be over-thinkers. As often as we have been told that ‘you can’t change the past’ or ‘don’t dwell in the past,’ it is not always easy to let go of our regrets. When I find myself spiraling into a place where I am recounting events or actions and wishing for a different reaction or outcome, I stop myself. I remind myself that I was doing the best that I could AT THAT TIME. Now… now, I have more knowledge since hindsight is 20/20. It makes it easy to see why you would make a different choice. I cannot criticize myself based on things I did not know, and you should not either, and neither should our children.

Guilt can be a motivation for change but nothing is as powerful of a motivator as education. 

I think this is SO critical in parenting. Our worlds and our children’s worlds are changing so fast. The knowledge that we as human beings have changes on a daily, hourly, and minute-to-minute basis. The amount of information that we have access to is overwhelming and often contradictory. Everything from what makes a healthy diet, to child development, to how to make the perfect paper airplane. You cannot possibly know it all. You cannot possibly predict all the outcomes for every decision you make for yourself or your family.

Yet, you will have to make decisions about dinners, medications, activities, and other influences for your children. You WILL NOT always make the right choice. Let me say that again, and louder for the people in the back: YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES FOR YOUR CHILDREN. You are human, and human beings make mistakes. For years, we were told juice was the healthy choice. It was good for our kids. But now, we know that a lot of juices have added sugar, without the added benefits of the fiber and other vitamins and minerals that get processed out during the juicing process. Should the parents of those of us who grew up drinking juice be shamed for giving it to us? Of course not! Clearly, apple juice is not a life-changing choice in the way that many parenting decisions are. However, we need to think about those decisions the same way.

I grew up in a house where there was a lot of yelling. Therefore, I learned to be a yeller. I feel horrible when I yell at my children! I KNOW all the statistics about what yelling does to a child’s development. I know firsthand how it makes a child feel. That’s not what I want for my children. I feel terrible guilt about the yelling that I did while my two oldest children were growing up. I have spent a lot of time beating myself up over it. What I had to come to realize was that, while I knew what I was doing was unhealthy, I did NOT know a different way to cope. I did NOT know how to change my reaction. Once I realized that I needed to learn a better way, THEN, I would be able to truly “do better,” it changed everything.


I truly hope that that is one life lesson that my children take from me. I hope that they remember this quote word for word. Not because I want them to be able to quote influential authors or seem scholarly, but because I want them to take those words to heart. Over the years, I have told my older two children (now 17 and nearly 19) the exact words of Maya Angelou when they tell me that they are upset about a mistake they have made. I try to remind them that sometimes only in looking back can you gain the knowledge you need to make changes in your life, and that punishing yourself for not knowing doesn’t help you, nor does it change anything. In life, we must take the lessons life gives us, learn from them, and then do better with the new insight that those lessons have given us.

Now that you know a better way to look at your mistakes and missteps, stop beating yourself up over not knowing sooner and move forward today, doing better.

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Lauren Eber
Lauren is originally from the Laurel Highlands area in Westmoreland County. However, she lived in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia before returning to South Western Pennsylvania after having her two youngest children to be closer to family. She and her husband have a blended family, each have a teen daughter from previous relationships, and at the ages of 39 and 40, they added two boys to their family. Lauren shares custody of her daughter, with her daughter’s father, who lives in West Virginia, while she, her husband, stepdaughter, the two elementry school age boys, and their three legged rescue dog now live in Mount Lebanon. In addition to being a mom, Lauren works full-time as an interior designer at a local kitchen and bath design center. She also enjoys reading, crafts, drawing, spending time in the mountains, writing, photography, watching the Penguins play, and eating vegetarian wings at The Double Wide Grill. She loves connecting with other moms and feels it is essential for moms to have a community of other women who support and encourage them on their parenting journey.